I have independently taught courses at the college level for 8 years. I have taught at each course level (1000 through 5000), and I have taught in a diverse set of classroom environments (e.g., large introductory courses, technology-focused classes in computer labs, basic and advanced writing courses, graduate seminars, methods courses). Thus, I have learned how to interact and connect with all levels of students. I feel comfortable with setting reasonable learning expectations at each level as well.
As I reflect upon my specific teaching strategies that I have used to connect with students, I realize that I teach better and students learn better from me if the student-instructor relationship is built upon respect, understanding, trust, transparency, and high expectations. I feel most comfortable with a more open and flexible relationship with students. I hear their feedback and learn from them, just as they listen to my instruction and learn from me. Even if I've taught a class four times, I seek and request their suggestions and feedback on the assignments. Perhaps it is the nature of the courses I teach most frequently—new media and journalism. New media storytelling and communication change so rapidly that I feel the need to always monitor the relevance and appropriateness of the assignments.
A few years ago, I also had the pleasure of reading a book on the first year seminar, by Brad Garner. In fall 2015, I taught a first year seminar on media literacy. I have to say that I loved this book and it deeply impacted my teaching philosophy and my interactions with students in all of my classes. One of the major lessons that I learned from the book is to create a classroom community. Creating a community is dependent on building connections and relationships with all of my students. Not only do I want to be their credible, respected, and knowledgeable instructor, but I also want to be their trusted mentor such that they feel comfortable talking to me about more than academics. I genuinely want to be their "friend". By "friend", I mean: they keep in touch with me in the future, they return to my classes to guest lecture (e.g., I have two former students guest lecture in my online journalism class), they give me updates on what the student community is experiencing on campus, and they feel comfortable talking about their struggles with managing academics and all the rest of student life. I emphasize that I want to stay in touch via LinkedIn so I can see how successful they have become. I try to make these desires clear to my students, and I try to foster this type of relationship with my students. I have noticed that when I foster this type of flexible, transparent, and supportive relationship with students, then I receive improved class participation and effort, class enthusiasm and interest, class communication and debate, and class expectations and rigor. I hope this is because I tell them I want to listen to them and hear their concerns about their learning progress and my teaching strategies.
I plan on continuing to use this strategy and adjust and refine the strategy as needed. For example, I do not want students to think I am a pushover, too friendly, or overly accommodating to their desires or demands. I have high standards and expectations still. I need to communicate that with students and still try to foster the two-way dialogue and transparent teaching strategy that I have adopted. It is always a learning experience and work-in-progress because every class dynamic and every student is different.
I hope that I have provided explanation as to why I believe the student-instructor relationship should be built upon the initial values that I outlined above: respect, understanding, trust, transparency, and high expectations. A strong feeling of classroom community will strongly encourage them to remember the class content, even when they are done with my class. They will remember how the class and its content made them feel: confident to move forward with adapting to new technologies and determined to be better writers and editors. I hope that I'm on the right track; According to the Gallup-Purdue Index Report (a study of 30,000 graduates of American colleges), human connectedness with a professor who stimulated them, cared about them, and encouraged their hopes and dreams significantly impacted students' chances of being engaged and thriving at their work. As I move forward, I will rely upon my teaching foundation of community and connectedness.